What’s the difference between winning and not losing?
It very much depends on how you are motivated. Are you motivated by avoiding the embarrassment of other people seeing you beaten, of not letting yourself down by not performing your best, of … not losing? Or are you motivated by the sheer joy of great performance, of being the best you know how to be, of … winning?
The two types of motivation can both be useful. I wrote here [How's Your Motivation?] about Towards and Away From motivation, and how both can be effective. In the context of winning, sometimes the desire not to be beaten by your rivals can drive you on to greater heights. I’ve just read “Will it make the Boat Go Faster” by Olympic Gold Medalist rower Ben Hunt Davis, and one of his big motivators was to “stuff” first the Romanians and then the Australians, both of whom had previously inflicted humiliating defeats on the British crew. That motivation kept him going through the devastating whole-race sprint that saw the British Eight win Gold in the Sydney Olympics (read the description in the final chapter of the book, it’s gripping, even though you know who wins).
But their strongest desire was not to beat the other crews, it was simply to win Gold. And that is why they decided to go for the high-risk strategy of the all-out-all-the-way race that saw them on the top step of the podium. The book talks about risk – and particularly risks you just have to take. The crew decided that going all out from the start was a big risk – but one they could not afford not to take.
Their focus on winning, rather than on not losing, was what made that decision right for them. They knew it was a risk that could leave them thoroughly beaten. If their focus had been on ‘not losing’ , instead of that being a risk they absolutely had to take – it would have been a risk they couldn’t afford TO take. But because they wanted to win Gold above all else, it became a risk they couldn’t afford NOT to take.
When we focus on ‘not losing’ – on avoiding problems rather than on grabbing opportunities – we also put our focus on those risks we “cannot afford to take”. Sometimes that works well, and we avoid big failures. But no-one who has ever achieved something great has done it without making the odd mistake along the way, without the occasional failure. John Shedd put it very well: “Ships in harbour are safe … but that isn’t what ships are built for”.
Far better to focus on winning – on grasping those opportunities with both hands and making the absolute most of them – and to look instead for those risks we really cannot afford not to take, the ones that can propel us to far greater success than we can otherwise imagine.
Where are you trying to not lose? Wouldn’t you rather win?